Wow! – this is what civic engagement is supposed to be. City’s staffer getting right out there and challenging you to get involved.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  December 14, 2011  I am impressed.  The Shape Burlington Report that everyone used during the last municipal election campaign and then sort of got forgotten is back – or at least one of its recommendation is out front and getting very personal..

In her first message to the community, Burlington’s first Public Involvement Coordinator (She goes by the title PIC), Christine Iamonaco said she was “looking forward to working with the public, stakeholders, city staff, and elected officials to make Burlington’s Public Involvement programs and community engagement activities excellent”.  Well they all say that – don’t they? What else are they going to say?  But Iamonaco qualified what she meant by “excellent” by saying that should be “taken to include:  transparent; accountable; meaningful; and engaging – which results in improved decision-making.”  That is a mouthful and if she lives up to just half of it, the city will have gotten great value for the two year contract Iamonaco has.

Christine Iamonaco punched her time clock card on October 1st and started in the the General Manager’s Office. This two-year contract position was established to ensure that the City of Burlington is successful in achieving its public involvement goals. And the newly approved Strategic Plan sets out specific tasks including that a ‘Community Engagement Charter’ be established.  Community engagement charters are a proven and successful model for making the practice of public involvement a regular part of city activities. Public Involvement Charters are in use by many levels of government, non-governmental organizations, corporations, agencies, boards and commissions.  My first task, leading the creation of the Public Involvement Charter, will be accomplished by forming a Community Engagement Charter Team that will create the charter.

What Iamonaco brings to the table:

Christine Iamonaco, taking part in one of her early public engagement events is shown here at the Heritage Worskshop where things got just a little heated at times. She seems to be ready for more - and wants to here from you.

Her experience is based on years of public involvement experience with the public and stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, with the private sector as a consultant and with government.  Her motto is “bringing people and projects together.”  Iamonaco informs us that “projects include plans, community engagement and organizational initiatives. Through my years of practicing public involvement, I have gained an in-depth understanding of removing public involvement barriers and recognizing when and how public involvement should occur. Through my education, I have studied both the theory and practice of public involvement. I have created approaches crafted to suit unique project and community needs. I am a certified Public Participation Practitioner, certified by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). IAP2’s principles are used my many organizations and municipalities, including Burlington.”

Getting the ball rolling

Iamonaco, the city's Public Involvement Coordinator may want to say something about CLOSED council sessions - maybe?

Her first six weeks at the City of Burlington began with face-to-face meetings with the Mayor, Councillors, Shaping Burlington members, the Inclusivity Advisory Committee, senior city staff and the community. She sat in on meetings of the standing committees of council, and attended the Plains Road Corridor Functional Design Public Information Centre, a public meeting and open house, held on November 2, 2011.  I note that she doesn’t say she attended a Council meeting – smart women.  Those things are deadly boring, have a sense of being rushed and convey little in the way of information.  Iamonaco clearly knows when to take part in something and when not to.

Early Findings and Observations:

Iamonaco reports observing three very clear messages. “There is city commitment to bettering the practice of public involvement in Burlington.”

“Improving community engagement means new ideas, even new thinking about delivering and participating in good public involvement activities. That will take the effort of the public, stakeholders, and city staff and council, working together.”

“There are opportunities,” she reports “ and of course challenges, not the least of which is early notification of community engagement plans and activities that offer opportunities for public involvement. Getting the word out about community engagement sounds easy, yet Burlington has some challenges that are unique because of its geographic location between the big news and bigger newspaper markets of Hamilton and Toronto.”

What Lies Ahead?

Achieving improvement in the practice of public involvement begins with the city’s newly approved Strategic Plan, Burlington, Our Future.

Strategic direction three, Excellence in Government, states the city will implement a Community Engagement Charter and appropriate policies and tools to support community relationships.  As stated by a member of Shaping Burlington, a community organization that supports this strategic initiative, “the Charter is the destination, and the process to develop it is the journey.”  I think that developing the Charter offers opportunity for working collaboratively with the public, non-governmental organizations, stakeholders, city staff and elected officials to craft a truly made-in-Burlington approach to community engagement.

Why Develop a Community Engagement Charter?

A community engagement charter is a social agreement that defines the commitment of the city, its staff and council, to conduct good public involvement activities in municipal processes such as: strategic planning; road projects; environmental assessments; budget consultations; voter turnout programs; and community development projects. Ensuring that the Charter has strength can be achieved through endorsement by City Council, and potentially, its adoption as a city policy.  Development of the Community Engagement Charter is also dependent on citizens and stakeholders setting specific engagement objectives, providing ideas, and undertaking review of the Charter’s implementation.

Iamonaco wants you to be involved.  You can do that by being a volunteer of the Charter Development Team!  You can help create the Burlington Community Engagement Charter.  Or you can just provide input on the Charter’s engagement process and content.  Maybe you just want to monitor Charter implementation.

First place you want to go for more detailed information – CLICK HERE.

Christione Iamonaco wants you – and there is the sense that she is going to do whatever it takes to get you to the table.  I think she actually takes prisoners.  If you want to be on her list: CLICK HERE

There will be a series of  Community Engagement Information Sessions:

Monday, January 12, 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.,

Aldershot Arena, Community Room, 494 Townsend Avenue

Tuesday, January 17, 7 to 8 p.m.

Mainway Recreation Centre, Auditorium, 4015 Mainway

Thursday, January 19, 7 – 8 p.m.

City Hall, 426 Brant Street Council Chambers (this session will be recorded for webcasting)

Thursday, January  19, 2 to 3 p.m.

City Hall, 426 Brant Street, Room 247

Thursday, January 26, 7 to 8 p.m.

Brant Hills Community Centre and Public Library, Nelson Room

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